(Guest post from Jordan Born, MDiv student from Alberta, Canada. Jordan has been an intern at River Oaks Church and also works part-time in admissions at RTS-O. He lives in Oviedo with his wife and their two children.)
One of the most important aspects my seminary experience so far is the opportunity to practice and apply what I am learning at school. As my pastor has regularly said “you can’t teach someone to ride a bike by having them watch you ride a bike, they have to go out and do it themselves”.
There are many ways that students can apply what they are learning in seminary to ministry. Some students work a part-time or full-time job while in seminary. Others, might take a summer off and serve on the mission field. All of these opportunities are great in their own way. I have had the unique opportunity of being involved in three different internship programs while in seminary. Two of these internship programs occurred over the summer months. The other internship program I was involved in occurred during the school year.
In what follows, I want to commend to you the values and benefits of being involved in a well-crafted internship while in seminary. The purpose of this blog post is twofold. The first purpose of this post is to encourage pastors, elders, and ministry leaders to make well-crafted internship programs a priority. The second purpose of this post is to encourage seminary students to get involved with these types of internship programs.
The Well-Crafted Internship Program
Let me tell you what an internship is not. It is not free labor. It is not free pulpit supply. It is not an opportunity for someone being trained to be a pastor to be running the sound board every Sunday. Prior to seminary training, it is assumed that the ministerial candidate has served in these various aspects of church life. Now I don’t mean to be polemical, and I certainly agree that an intern can and should set up chairs on Sunday morning. But this is not the only thing that he should be doing. I have greatly benefitted from three well-crafted internship programs that I believe have trained me well for the ministry. I want to highlight some of the things that were done well in these programs.
- Oversight and accountability. In a well-crafted internship, a pastor or elders work with the ministerial candidate to ensure that he is faithfully applying the skills he learned in seminary and not disqualifying himself from the ministry. This means that they know well the strengths and weaknesses of their intern. In my internship, all three of my pastors cared for me well—they did what a pastor ought to do, they cared for my soul. Not only this, but they cared for my calling. They know me well and want to ensure that I am well prepared for the first church I will serve in.
- Opportunities to Serve. Let your ministerial candidate preach, let him tag along on visits, let him observe you counsel, let him lead worship services, let him lead Sunday school, and yes along with those things he should still be setting up chairs on Sunday. In all three of my internship programs that I have been involved in, gracious ministers have let me serve in this way. I am so grateful for all three of these ministers who sacrificed their time and energy to help me learn what this high and holy calling entails. Certainly, exercise discernment in identifying whether a candidate is even ready to do some of these things.
- Constructive Criticism. “That was an excellent sermon” or “you looked nervous…” or “I’m not sure you’re cut out for this”, are not good ways to encourage your intern. Giving insightful critique of a lesson, sermon, counseling session, etc. Help the intern understand how he can better apply what he is learning in seminary.
- Do not muzzle the ox. This one is a bit controversial. I hesitated to include it. There are churches out there with multiple interns and limited funds. Funding an internship is not always possible. Often times, interns will serve on a part-time basis, completing only a few internship hours a week. In these cases, an unpaid internship can be a suitable and fair arrangement. However, it is important to realize (especially in a full-time setting) that an intern might already be working twenty hours a week in the secular world and forty hours a week studying. He must also care for his family well. Additionally, he needs internship hours to graduate from seminary. If a church has the funds to do so, they ought to compensate him in some way to support him in the work that he is doing. When I have served as a full-time intern, the churches that I have served at have been very supportive of me financially and have helped me in this.
An intern must approach an internship not with a “what can I get from this” attitude. Rather, “how can I give” and “what can I learn”. A ministerial candidate should recognize that an internship can train them for ministry in a way that jumping into full time ministry can’t. I think of medical school. Each medical school has an internship and residency program for their doctoral candidates. Before a surgeon can cut into a patient, he must learn how to assess whether a patient needs to be cut into (and he needs to be able to do it successfully). In the same way, the humble ministerial candidate ought to submit himself to the oversight of a local congregation who will help him identify his calling and gifting in ministry. He ought not to expect special privileges, or to jump into the pulpit on his first week there. He ought not to try to correct the pastor or session. He is there to learn and listen.
This is very different than being hired in a full-time position to lead. An intern ought to cherish the opportunity to learn. In my internships, one of the best things that I learned was to be an intern. To be one who was given an immense privilege that others may not receive. To be able to learn from and gain the wisdom and experience of a seasoned pastor. Money can’t buy something like that. So when looking for internship programs, don’t be looking for the best paying program, but rather the one where you will get the kind of ministry exposure that you will need later in your own ministry.
I wouldn’t trade the three internship experiences that I had for the world. All three were well crafted. The men who helped to form me as a pastor were able to help me in a way that a full-time job couldn’t. If you are looking for an internship program here at RTS, there are several out there. The program that I participated in is called ROCMAS (River Oaks Ministry Associate Scheme). I would certainly commend this program as an excellent program for those who are looking for further ministerial training outside of the seminary. The kinds of lessons that we go through each week, I would say, are of the same quality as what I am getting at seminary.